Making the parental leave system more flexible to include both mothers and fathers would benefit the birth rate as well as the professional skills of the parents, a study on paternal leave found.

In Estonia, about 90 percent of men are willing to consider paternity leave, but in reality, only five percent have used the option in the last nine years. This is mostly due to traditional gender roles, where it is assumed that women stay at home and men go to work, Helen Biin, an analyst for the Praxis Center for Policy Studies, told Postimees.

There hasn’t been much research into the profile of the men who currently take paternity leave but the size of their benefit suggests they are highly paid men willing to share the domestic workload.

Scandinavian countries have introduced a compulsory paternity leave, which has led to nine out of ten men staying at home with their child. The system designates paid leave to fathers and if the family decides that only the mother will stay at home, the household will lose the parental benefits designated for the period. In Norway, the number of men using paternal leave mushroomed from four percent to 89 percent.

The Estonian system is advanced in some ways – the long leave period, the obligation to preserve the position of the parent for the duration of the leave – but it needs updating, Biin said. If it becomes more natural for a father to also actively look after the child and parenting is more equally distributed, more children would be born, she added.

Interviews with employers indicated that initial reluctance faded once they admitted it is mostly caused by habitual attitudes, the Praxis study showed.

Currently, the parent is allowed to work during the leave, provided the income doesn’t exceed 320 euros per month and they are not working for the same employer they had before going on parental leave.

Analysts have proposed partial parental leave for both mothers and fathers to enable more flexible parenting. Thatt would also ensure maintaining professional contacts and skills and would help do away with the notion that young women are in the “risk group” in the job market because of their possible future maternity leave.

Source: Gender Roles Behind Reluctance to Take Paternity Leave, Study Says, ERR